Damnation Alley (1977) – By Duane L. Martin

Of all the films I had to review this month, this is the only one I was REALLY looking forward to. See, I remember seeing this film as a kid. It came out when I was six or seven years old (but most likely I was still six since my birthday is in December), and I’m not sure how old I was exactly when I first saw it, but it definitely made an impression on me. In fact, my best memory of this film (before I saw it again) was of the Landmaster vehicle, which I’ll talk about later. When I received this new release from Shout Factory, I took one look at the cover, saw the Landmaster, and I was like, "Oh holy crap! I remember this movie!!!"

Damnation Alley is based on the book of the same name by Roger Zelazny. As the film starts out, Major Eugene Denton (George Peppard) and Tanner (Jan-Michael Vincent) are reporting for their shift in a nuclear silo. Major Denton picks just this moment to tell Tanner that he’s requested a different shift partner because he doesn’t feel that their personalities match up well enough for them to be shift partners. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Suddenly, the base monitoring systems pick up hundreds of missiles heading for the US. Interceptors are launched, but only take out about 40% of the missiles. It’s at this point that the order is given to launch our own missiles. The Earth is knocked off is axis by several degrees because of the devastation, and most of the country’s population is wiped out, though the people on the base survive, and try to exist in this new reality.

After the war, Major Denton assists in the construction of two armed vehicles called Landmasters. Totally self contained and boasting a full armament of missiles and machine guns, and propelled by two independent drive trains, the vehicle can go over virtually any terrain thanks to it’s rotating, tri-wheel system. Basically, the tri-wheel design on each side of both axles, allows the vehicle to drive or climb over virtually anything, and even allows it to propel itself in water. It’s really a treat to watch this thing in action. Anyway, after an accident on the base causes an explosion that wipes out everyone except for Major Denton, Tanner, Keegan (Paul Winfield) and one other service man who isn’t worth mentioning since he dies when their Landmaster is taken out by a massive storm, the three make their way across the country in the one surviving Landmaster, trying to reach Albany, New York via a route dubbed Damnation Alley that offers them the lowest exposure to radiation. This is the only place they’ve received any sort of a signal from, and even that’s automated, so they’re unsure if there are any survivors there or not, but it’s all they have to go on.

Along the way, they stop in what’s left of Las Vegas, where they find one survivor who joins them, a woman named Janic (Dominique Sanda). They’re later joined by a boy named Billy that they find inhabiting a desolated house out in the middle of nowhere, and together, they try to make it across the country, while trying to survive and find other survivors. What’s waiting for them in New York? Is it what they were looking for? Is anyone left? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Man, I have to tell you, I absolutely LOVE this movie. There are a whole lot of things to love about it, but without question, the Landmaster vehicle is #1 on the list. It’s literally about the coolest vehicle ever, and the best part is…it’s 100% working and real! This thing was custom built for the film by stunt coordinator and car designer, Dean Jeffries, and one of the special features on the DVD is an interview with Mr. Jeffries, where he talks all about the Landmaster, how he designed and built it, its capabilities, its complete history, including its appearances in other films and where it is today.

This film includes a variety of special effects, including a massive cockroach army that devours any living thing they come into contact with, giant scorpions, massive storms and some amazingly 80’s looking radioactive looking sky effects. It also features Jan Michael Vincent back when he was young and in his prime, before all the problems that ultimately ended his career back in 2004, and a pre-A-Team George Peppard with a mustache. How can you beat that? If all of that isn’t enough to sell you on the film, I don’t know what it’ll take.

This is another amazing release from Shout Factory, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally see this film out there for everyone to enjoy. There are a lot of great special features on this release as well, including commentary with producer Paul Maslansky, a featurette about the difficulties in adapting the book to film with producer Jerome Zeitman, the aforementioned interview with stunt coordinator and the creator of the Landmaster, Dean Jeffries, the theatrical trailer and a TV spot. All in all, this is an incredible package that any fan of 80’s b-movies or fans of post-apocalyptic cinema will want in their collection. You really can’t go wrong with this one.

The film is available on DVD and Blu-ray and right now, Shout Factory is offering a free, limited edition 8"x10" Damnation Alley lithograph with purchase.

Blu-ray / DVD